story and photos by Kim Souza
Roughly 150 people – veterans, civilians and children alike – joined together on a windy Saturday morning (Nov. 10) to celebrate Veterans Day at the Wall of Honor in Bella Vista.
William Robson, pushed his walker up to the Wall of Honor, running his hand across the granite and stopping abruptly on his own name. Robson was quick to share that he proudly served in Korea, was wounded twice and received two purple hearts.
“I went over in 1952 and was there until 12 days before the final cease fire was ordered,” Robson recalled.
He said coming to the Wall of Honor gives him a sense of gratitude, to know people cared enough to memorialize all of the service of so many past, present and future soldiers.
Robson served in three of the five branches of the U.S. Military, putting in a sum total of 22 years. He was drafted into the U.S. Marine Corp. and served his term there, before he joined the Navy to become a pilot and aircraft mechanic.
During the Cold War, Robson flew with Air Eagle Warner Pacific squadron on constant patrol of the Pacific Ocean from Midway Island to Alaska through 1967.
“It was a tense time in this country, everyone lived on red alert,” Robson said.
A few years later Robson said the Coast Guard allowed him to consolidate his years spent in the other two branches, so he did.
“I eventually retired from the U.S. Coast Guard,” Robson said.
As the crowd began to gather at Saturday’s event, the Bella Vista band played several patriotic songs stopping joggers and passersby in their tracks to watch and listen.
Commander Jim Heath at American Legion Post 341 said veterans are all connected by similar memories regardless of the time and place of their service.
“We can all think back to that first night we spent in the barracks, either at boot camp or basic training and how it felt to be so far from home about to embark on something totally unfamiliar,” Heath said.
Shelaine Coleman, a former marine and now vice commander at American Legion Post 341, delivered a tribute to the “Table set for One” in honor of all missing soldiers.
Coleman eloquently explained the table is set for one because the solider is alone and then she ran through each element placed at the tribute such as a red rose, a reminder of blood shed, a lemon slice to exemplify the bitter fate and salt shaken in the plate as symbol of countless tears of families as they await.
Coleman asked the crowd to pray for Sgt. Bowe Robert Bergdahl, a 26-year-old Army POW captured in Afghanistan in June 2009. She said the last word on his status was in December 2011 after he tried to escape, but was recaptured.
Mary Erdman, state commander for the American Legion, gave the keynote address first wishing the U.S. Marine Corp. a happy 237th Birthday. She said there are 23 million veterans, and roughly 10% of the population can claim that title. It’s a title she wears proudly having served in Desert Storm and Panama as a nurse officer.
Erdman said too often today people want to run from service, but she asked simply, “Where would you and I be if others had felt that way years ago. We might be speaking German or bowing to a king or queen.”
“Our country didn’t run when attacked, it has stood and fought for the freedoms we have today.”
She thanked the veterans for each giving something of themselves and urged the generations to never forget or take for granted what has and is still being done to protect our liberty.
As Heath ordered the 21-gun salute and the playing of taps, he said soldiers sign a blank check with the U.S. government when they enter military service. That check is payable for any amount “up to” and “including” his or her life.
“Today we have in our midst WW II veterans, one who served at the Battle of the Bulge, soldiers who served in Korea, Vietnam, Dessert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. We are all linked by our service, which is an honor too many people no longer understand.”